September 21st, 2010
02:10 PM ET

Where did waters part for Moses? Not where you think

An illustration based on new research shows how wind could have moved and split waters from two ancient basins.

The parting of the waters described in the book of Exodus that enabled Moses and the Israelites to escape the pharaoh's army is possible, computer simulations run by researchers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the University of Colorado at Boulder show.

To test the theory that the biblical account may have depicted actual events, the researchers studied maps of the region, archaeological records and satellite measurements to find a topographical feature where such an event might have been possible. They settled on an area south of the Mediterranean Sea where some oceanographers say a branch of the Nile River drained into what was called the Lake of Tanis, a coastal lagoon 3,000 years ago.

The computer model shows a 63 mph east wind blowing across the area and its 6-feet-deep waters for 12 hours. In the scenario, the wind pushed back the waters into both the lake and the channel of the river, exposing a mud flat 2 to 2.5 miles long and 3 miles wide for four hours. As the winds died down, the waters quickly flowed back in and in theory would have drowned anyone on the mud flat.

“The simulations match fairly closely with the account in Exodus,” said Carl Drews of NCAR, the lead author of the study published in the online journal PLoS ONE. (Read the full study)

“The parting of the waters can be understood through fluid dynamics. The wind moves the water in a way that’s in accordance with physical laws, creating a safe passage with water on two sides and then abruptly allowing the water to rush back in.”

YouTube: Parting the waters, Part 1: The physics of a land bridge

Parting the waters, Part 2: Carl Drews on wind setdown research
The biblical account of Exodus has Moses and his followers trapped by the pharaoh forces against a body of water, which has been translated to both the Red Sea and the Sea of Reeds. In the account, a strong wind comes up after night falls and parts the waters behind the Israelites. Moses leads them into the breach but when the pharaoh army pursues them at daybreak, the gap disappears and the army is lost.

Previous research has focused on areas of the Red Sea near the modern-day Suez Canal where the biblical miracle may have been possible. The NCAR/CU team said their research shows those scenarios unlikely. They ran a series of 14 computer simulations to pinpoint the area where the parting of the waters was most likely.

“People have always been fascinated by this Exodus story, wondering if it comes from historical facts,” Drews says. “What this study shows is that the description of the waters parting indeed has a basis in physical laws."

Drews conducted the Exodus research as part of a larger project on how winds can affect water depths.

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  1. vonsinva

    It seems very interesting that an article about a scientific experiment has generated discussion that has devolved into a fight between religious believers and non-believers. The non-believers who cling so tightly to only science refuse to accept the results of experiments conducted by the very same science simply because the results do not advance their own non-belief in a greater being. This article is only stating that if certain conditions are met then a particular result will be achieved. This is the goal of any scientific experiment. I hold advanced degrees in several engineering fields and regularly run scientific testing in various areas including climatic studies. Although I have read no procedural dissertation for this experiment there seems to be no reason to doubt it's validity on the surface. I readily admit to my Christian beliefs and will apologize for them to no one. My personal interest in science as a whole has always been my belief that science and physical law are simply the study of how God accomplishes the things that He does. It is a small attempt by man to understand the smallest part of the mind of God. If you are an individual who does not have belief or faith in God then I pity you (although I am aware that you will tell me rather unkindly that you do not want my pity). I respect your right to make your choice in what you wish to believe and to ultimately deal with the consequences. I do not understand why it is so important to those who do not believe to attempt to belittle and degrade those who do. We are happy with our belief and faith and should be allowed, especially in this country, to be who we are in peace.

    September 22, 2010 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
  2. ZOOMER165


    September 22, 2010 at 3:11 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Ray Porter

    Most of the stories of the bible were plagerized from other religions.all are stories told by fathers to son over several centuries befor written word.Most are a lot of myth based on very little fact.

    September 22, 2010 at 3:12 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Jonathan

    Even if it did happen the way this simulation could they walk, carrying everything they own, through soft mud, with 63mph winds blowing at their back?

    September 22, 2010 at 3:16 pm | Report abuse |
  5. aldo

    Why are stories about fairy tales being put on CNN?

    September 22, 2010 at 3:16 pm | Report abuse |
  6. mmm

    That pretty much looks like the state of religious minds when they couldn't understand stuff in this world and created GOD. Science (again check the NASA link) that the entire universe is made of ~70% dark energy, ~25% dark matter, ~5% normal matter. So much is unknown. Both science and religion are children of our thoughts, my dear friends. While science has made a large measurable progress in the known realm, i am not sure how to gauge religion's progress in the unknown realm.

    September 22, 2010 at 3:22 pm | Report abuse |
  7. anon

    According to the writings of Josephus (first century Jewish historian ) , Moses was also a very powerful Egyptian general. This made his betrayal to Pharoah all the more unforgiveable. This also shows what lengths Moses was willing to go to in order to save his people ( the Jews ) as he posed as a Jewish slave at one point. . Josephus, who never claimed to believe in Jesus, mentioned the events leading to the crucifixion of Jesus and the fact that it was because he claimed to be the Son of GOD. Whether you believe that Jesus was the Son of GOD, there really is no denying that Jesus existed. Josephus' writings are also very important because it gives a history for how terrorism was fought in ancient times. Unfortunatley terrorism is not a new disease.

    September 22, 2010 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse |
  8. John

    As someone with a PhD in zoology, who teaches university courses in evolution, and basic astronomy and geology, I can understand why many feel that science has all the answers and that there is no need and no place for God. However, as a Christian who has had prayers answered, who has been guided and taught by the Holy Spirit, who has seen miracles occur, and who has found great happiness by following the teachings of Jesus Christ, I am compelled to write and affirm that there is a God who knows and loves us and is willing to guide us in our daily lives if we will let him. Those who have not experienced these things cannot understand. If they are willing to experiment by applying God’s teachings, they can also know.

    I am not alone. There are hundreds, if not thousands of men and women who are trained in the sciences and yet have a firm belief in God and seek and receive guidance from him.

    The famous rocket scientist Werner von Braun wrote “Science and religion are not antagonist. On the contrary, they are sisters. While science tries to learn more about the creation, religion tries to better understand the Creator. While through science man tries to harness the forces of nature around him, through religion he tries to harness the forces of nature within him. “

    September 22, 2010 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
  9. cavemanstyle

    Let's face it. Even if scientists unravel the biggest mystery of all, which is how the universe came to be. The archbishop of canturbury will profoundly stunt you once again with his ultimate phrase "Why something exists out of nothing"? .. So you see, no matter how far scientists take this subject, the clergy will pose unanswerable questions so that faith in something that can't be proven will exist. This, fear of the unknown has and still does, control nations of people. Your best bet, is to stop worrying about things you can't control, and figure out how to cure diseases, travel in space, and pay your electric bill. Just remember, we're all in this together, and it's up to us to figure all this out. Arguing is futile.

    September 22, 2010 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
  10. James

    when you get to heaven, are you allowed to do all the things that are considered sins on earth?

    September 22, 2010 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
  11. mmm

    That pretty much looks like the state of religious minds when they couldn't understand stuff in this world and created GOD. Science (again check the NASA link) that the entire universe is made of ~70% dark energy, ~25% dark matter, ~5% normal matter. So much is unknown. Both science and religion are children of our thoughts, my dear friends. While science has made a large measurable progress in the known realm, it has left the unknown realm to religion.

    September 22, 2010 at 3:29 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Brad

    Chuck Norris parted the waters!

    September 22, 2010 at 3:29 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Jon

    hapless, helpless, hopeless,

    you may need some help. there is a illness in which you may have, depression...

    September 22, 2010 at 3:31 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Very interesting...

    To those individuals who think that religion is a farce, that science can prove EVERYTHING, that God isn't real, that the Bible was just a collection of stories, etc...I hope that you're right...Because if you ARE wrong, you will have an EXTREMELY long amount of time to ponder your beliefs!

    September 22, 2010 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
  15. AK

    Close to 1500 responses... if you non-believers are so sure there is no God, what are you posting for? Why argue? Why waste your time? Just ignore it and move on. But there's a reason why such topics attract the most attention: because the spiritual world is real and the spiritual battle is real in everyone's life. If tomorrow, CNN posts an article about a mythological god of any sort, I HIGHLY doubt there would be such an immense amount of responses to the story. Why? Because we all KNOW it's mythical. But when we come to conversation about the one true God – it's hard to fight as He has done so much in our lives that denying Him takes more faith than accepting His existence.

    We live by faith – every day of our lives involves faith. Faith exists and is in no way some mythical concept. This same faith must simply be put to the right use. Trust me, you'll be amazed at what you see!

    September 22, 2010 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse |
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